Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Rowley.
Photo by Nelson A. King, file

Months of lobbying from Caribbean governments to get the US to pay closer attention to air and sea cargo shipments to the region are beginning to yield fruit with the Homeland Security Department recently reporting one of the biggest seizures of weapons and ammunition in recent years.

Trinidadian Prime Minister Keith Rowley, who is responsible for security in CARICOM, said that there is evidence that federal agencies are paying closer attention to cargo headed to the region, noting that more than half a million shipments were pulled aside for scrutiny by Homeland Security in the past year.

Operation Hammerhead as it was dubbed saw about 600,000 packages and crates being set aside for secondary inspection recently, resulting in 318 rifles and handguns being seized and close to 20,000 rounds of assorted ammunition confiscated.

“One can only envisage what that would have added to the horror that we are already experiencing. As a result of that exercise, we initiated and supported 25 international firearm trafficking cases and indictments and arrests are anticipated for several persons in the US,” Rowley told local reporters in a recent briefing.

“There is a positive outcome to be had by working alongside the US at the source end of the supply of the guns and ammunition. That is not what we picked up here. It was detected at that other end that was destined for us,” Rowley added.

The region had been bombarding the US to better examine packages and crates headed its way, blaming states like Florida, Maryland and New York as being the main ones from which smugglers send large caches of weapons to the Caribbean. Homeland Security has been working mainly with the umbrella body-the Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS).

The lobbying effort was pitched to President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in separate meetings. Harris had met with regional leaders in The Bahamas last year where the issue was raised by fatigued heads of governments.

Trinidad, Jamaica, Haiti, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, The Bahamas and Barbados have all been complaining about a stark increase in gun crimes, much of it blamed on smuggling of weapons from the US.